I certainly don’t have it all figured out when it comes to eating real food on a budget. In fact, in recent months, there have been times when, at the end of the month we have enjoyed rice & beans and beans & rice a few times more than normal.
It is possible though, to eat healthy food on a real budget (the money we use doesn’t grow on trees!). It can sometimes be tricky, particularly if you are transitioning to eating more whole, real foods. I haven’t mastered it, but I want to share what I’m learning with you in hopes that it will serve you!
9 Tips for eating real food on a budget:
1. Keep a budget. I cannot overemphasize this point enough. If you and your husband don’t keep a budget, please come back tomorrow and read why I believe it’s so important AND how to do it. This will pay dividends in helping you budget for good, real food. To be more specific, keep a food budget within your overall budget. Purchase only food with it!
2. Buy food in bulk. Usually it is cheaper to buy most real food this way. You pay more up front but end up spending less overall. For example, I just brought home two cases of yogurt from my coop for $2.04 each when I usually but the same yogurt in the store for $2.47. Instead of buying one 32. oz cup, I bought six. Some of the real foods I buy in bulk include grains, honey, coconut oil, salt, yogurt, nuts, and sucanat. I recently joined a coop in our area and just received my first order. Most areas have established coops that can be found with a little research. A few companies that you can contact to inquire about a coop near you include UNFI, Azure Standard, Something Better Natural Foods. Why not start one?
3. Buy extra of a particular item when it’s on sale. Lately, the health food store near us has had mangoes on sale two for $1. I can’t even find that at a conventional grocery store! Needless to say, we’ve been eating lots of mangoes and I plan to freeze some as well.
4. Go by the Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 List to help you decide what is really important to buy organic. This is helpful, especially if you have a tight budget.
5. Look for deals online. Amazingly, Amazon has some great deals, such as this one for organic maple syrup. If you sign up for their subscribe & save program (it’s free), you get 15% off of the price and free shipping. That means the total ends up being $16.83 for 32 oz. of organic maple syrup. You can’t beat that! I have also bought coconut oil from Amazon when the price has been really low.
6. Designate certain amounts of money from your food budget for certain food items. For example, I know generally about how much milk we drink a month and how many dozens of eggs we go through in a month. I am able to then see how much money I’ll have each week for other food items. This doesn’t need to be restrictive. Last week, I went over in what I allotted for produce, but this week, I spent less that usual so it essentially balanced itself.
7. Eat at home. One important key to eating real food on a budget is cooking your own food! You know you’ll be getting real food at home, but you may not if you eat out at a restaurant. Not only that, but instead of buying items such as chicken broth, salad dressings, dips, and mixes, make at home for a fraction of the cost. I’d encourage you to replace as many ready-made items as possible with home made items. Check out my recipes for a few and stay tuned later this summer for an ebook that I hope will serve you well in this area! Cooking at home will save you a lot of money and you’ll be eating healthy food!
8. Can, freeze, or dehydrate foods during peak seasons. I have yet to venture into canning (a must! I was never taught), but we do dehydrate and freeze food. By doing this, you will save when the summer produce is more expensive and out of season in the middle of winter.
9. Treat meat as a side item. We love meat. I think meat from good sources, free of antibiotics, pesticides, and GMOs is a healthy food and nourishing to our bodies. However, it can be very expensive and I don’t believe it needs to be the main part of a meal. We eat it about twice a week and with it, I try to have other filling foods to make it stretch. I realize that my husband is unique in that whatever I put in front of him (ahem, generally), he will happily eat. He also usually eats a lot more of the meat dish that I serve than I do. Every husband is different and we should seek to honor him and serve him by preparing meals he’ll enjoy. If you are seeking to stretch your food budget money, prepare a grain to go along with the meat that he’d also enjoy with the meat. It will help stretch the meat dish.
10. If possible, keep a garden. My husband is the in-house gardener and it certainly saves us money in the summer time, especially on items such as peppers. Make a list of the foods you eat the most and start with these, if possible in your area of the country. If you are unable to have a garden but know someone who has one, offer to help with theirs in exchange for some of the produce.
I hope these tips for eating real food on a budget are helpful! I am still learning and if you want to learn more from a woman who has been doing this longer, check out Stephanie at Keeper of the Home. She has a new book out with lots of helpful information!